Aerial view of Great Barrier Reef from helicopter with cockpit
Aerial view of Great Barrier Reef from helicopter with cockpit

Great Barrier Reef innovation is up in the clouds

AN "out there" solution to protecting the Great Barrier Reef from coral bleaching by manipulating clouds, could become a reality within the next three years.

The Federal Government has launched the $150 million research and development phase of its Reef Restoration and Adaptation program, led by the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS), and CSIRO.

A feasibility study, released today, has identified 43 concepts to be developed further to build reef resilience.

A $150m study by the federal government has identified 43 concepts to be developed further to build reef resilience. Picture: Istock
A $150m study by the federal government has identified 43 concepts to be developed further to build reef resilience. Picture: Istock

Among them is a project to shade and cool large areas of the Reef at risk of bleaching by spraying microscopic saltwater droplets into clouds to make them more reflective of sunlight.

AIMS chief executive Dr Paul Hardisty said the project was certainly one of the most "out there" solutions to protecting the natural wonder.

"But the more ... we did the analysis to talk to people who have worked with these systems, the more we realised it had real potential for working at the kinds of scale that we're talking about," he said.

He said the "cloud brightening" project could be trialled at an individual coral reef within the next three years.

"If we're going to go into full-scale implementation, we would want it to be doing it in combination with other methods," he said.

Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley snorkels at Flynn Reef, off Cairns, last year.
Federal Environment Minister Sussan Ley snorkels at Flynn Reef, off Cairns, last year.

Other projects include: examining ways to collect and freeze baby corals for use in year-round coral seeding; seeding reefs with corals that are more resilient to heat; investigating methods to stabilise damaged reefs after cyclone and bleaching events; and developing technologies that increase the survival rate of baby corals.

Leichhardt MP and the government's Special Envoy to the Great Barrier Reef, Warren Entsch, said the research program funding should not be viewed as a leg up for the Far North's struggling dive industry, but said some of the money would be spent in the region.

"This is 100 per cent focused on building resilience for the Reef," he said.

Environment Minister Sussan Ley said climate change remained the biggest threat to the world's coral reefs.

"While a global response is needed to tackle emissions, Australian science can lead the way in developing adaptive technologies to help protect the reef," she said.

Originally published as Great Barrier Reef innovation is up in the clouds


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